Gaming Goodness at Gen Con 2013

I mentioned already that my favorite part of Gen Con was the people, but I know most of you also really want to know: what about the games? Here’s a quick run down of some of my favorite games played, a list of games that warrant further attention, and a few of the things I didn’t get to but really wished I had.

Revisiting a few favorites

RollWoodmanDamage
Roll For It, Tok Tok Woodman, Damage Report

For me, I tried to focus on games I hadn’t played before or didn’t own already, but there were a few replays: I simply had to show Tok Tok Woodman to John, so we played a quick game of that. (Don’t forget—you can still Kickstart version 2.0 right now!) The three of us GeekDads also played a game of Roll For It—it’s not available quite yet, but it’s definitely one you’ll want to pick up for a quick game on the go. Finally, I played the demo version of Damage Report, a real-time cooperative game that I’m eagerly awaiting. It’s another Kickstarter project that’s been delayed, but the version at Gen Con had more of the finished artwork than I’d seen the first time around, and I like the way it’s shaping up. Oh, and Great Heartland Hauling Company, which Dave brought along—we happened to get a visit from designer Jason Kotarski while we were playing!

Discovering new favorites

Robinson Crusoe
Robinson Crusoe. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

Dave Banks already mentioned two of my favorites: Robinson Crusoe and Rampage. I’ve been thinking about Robinson Crusoe since playing it that first day (when it was already sold out) and I’ll probably end up buying a copy myself eventually. Although some of the mechanics were familiar, I was fascinated by the way they were put together. For instance, it’s sort of a worker-placement mechanic: you have two pawns that you can place to decide what you’re going to do each day. But the two pawns represent your attention: if you put both pawns on the same action, you’re spending the entire day doing one thing, and you are guaranteed to succeed. But if you split your day doing two different things, you have to roll three dice: one to see if you actually succeed, one to see if you hurt yourself doing it, and one to see if an event occurs.

The events are brilliant, too. Many may have a delayed effect: when you twist your ankle, it doesn’t bother you so much, but then that card gets shuffled into the main event deck. When it comes up again, your ankle is swollen and you can’t leave camp for a day. It’s little touches like that which make the game genius.

Rampage
Rampage! It’s like Pacific Rim, except the “good guys” never show up. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

And Rampage, coming soon from Asmodee Games, is high on my list of dexterity games. It seems totally different from Robinson Crusoe: it’s loud and colorful and totally unrealistic, but I love it. Come on, a game where you get to build buildings out of meeples and tiles and then knock them down? What’s not to love?

Dread Curse
The Dread Curse pirate cards are oversized.

Dread Curse is a fantastic press-your-luck game from Smirk and Dagger that goes up to 8 players, but is still really quick. I’d gotten a preview of it at PAX East this year but finally got to sit down and play a game with Dave and John. I believe it’s not officially released yet, but Smirk and Dagger had early copies to sell at Gen Con, and it sold very well over the weekend. The idea is that each round, you select a pirate role—each role has its own rules for how many coins it can draw out of the bag, and how many coins it can steal from other pirates. The coins are worth varying amounts (including a lead slug worth -5 points and two Black Spots which prevent you from winning), and the goal is to amass the most fortune and then get out—without the curse. Pirate’s Code cards let you further thwart each other’s plans. Expect a full review of this one later!

Space Cadets: Dice Duel
Don’t be fooled by the apparent peaceful nature of this photo. This isn’t a game you can photograph while playing!

My Game of the Year for 2012 was Escape, a real-time cooperative dice-rolling game. Well, Space Cadets: Dice Duel from Stronghold Games is like a bizarre hybrid of Escape and Spaceteam, the “cooperative shouting game” for iOS. It’s two teams against each other, flying their ships through space and trying to shoot each other down. But each team has a limited number of dice they can roll at a time: Engineering assigns dice to the other stations, who can then use them to program the ship’s movement, charge shields, engage target lock or jam the other team’s locks, load torpedoes, or use a tractor beam. It’s a race to get in range and fire torpedoes—but there are so many things that can go wrong. You might be facing the wrong way, or the other ship may have moved out of range; you might not have enough target locks to overcome their jammers; they might have enough shields to deflect your shots.

All of this is played out in barely-controlled chaos as you frantically roll dice and shout commands at each other, while trying to pay attention to the other team’s actions as well. Stronghold sold out of their supply at Gen Con, and currently has a limited number for sale, which will be signed by designers Geoff and Sydney Englestein. They said I could get a review copy if I waited until the second batch in October … but I couldn’t wait. I’ve placed my order and can’t wait to play again.

Oh, and of course, the last on my list of new favorites was True Dungeon … but that’s for another post.

Games to watch

There were several games that I got to just have a small taste of—enough to intrigue me but not enough for a solid endorsement yet. These are games that are on my watch list.

Pathfinder Adventure Card Game
Designer Mike Selinker runs a demo of the Pathfinder Adventure Card Game.

The Pathfinder Adventure Card Game brings the world of Pathfinder roleplaying into a card game. It’s designed by Mike Selinker of Lone Shark Games, and it has elements of deck-building games but really has its own flavor. We played a shortened version of the first quest, and I’m eager to try more. It also sold out at Gen Con (perhaps on the first day) but I’m hoping there will be more available at PAX next weekend.

VivaJavaDice
VivaJava—now in dice form!

 

I’ve pretty much backed all of the games from Dice Hate Me Games, and VivaJava: The Coffee Game: The Dice Game is not only the longest title but also might be my new favorite of theirs. It takes some of the blend-research actions from the original VivaJava game and condenses it into a Yahtzee-style game using dice and coasters. There’s still that optional cooperative element, but there’s also a lot of rich backstabbiness. The Kickstarter for this just ended last month, so the game isn’t expected until January, but designer TC Petty III ran a demo for us.

Belle of the Ball
Chris Kirkman with Dice Hate Me Games’ upcoming release, Belle of the Ball.

Speaking of Dice Hate Me Games, their latest Kickstarter is for a game design by Daniel Solis: Belle of the Ball. It’s a “fancy schmancy” card game that involves inviting guests to your party and putting them in groups that share conversational interests—politics, for instance, or fine cheeses. There’s a bit of set collection, some Belle cards that can wreak havoc with your opponents’ parties or assist your own, and—most importantly—the chance to loudly announce (in your fanciest voice) a lot of very ridiculous names, like Gapplepap Gravelsap, Drake of Jamshire. Check out the Kickstarter—once again, Dice Hate Me has a very entertaining Kickstarter video (plus a chance to get in on Carnival or Great Heartland Hauling Company if you missed those before).

Dark Gothic
Various boss enemies from Dark Gothic, a deck-building game based on A Touch of Evil.

Another game company I love is Flying Frog Productions. I’ll admit their games aren’t my usual fare: they’re theme-heavy, B-movie-inspired romps, but I’m a sucker for the way they dress up actors with props for their game images. I actually haven’t played their Touch of Evil series of games, which are a sort of early-American horror. (I’ve been more drawn to their Last Night on Earth zombie games.) This year at Gen Con they announced Dark Gothic, a deck-building game set in the same world as A Touch of Evil. It was still in prototype form, but I got to play a game of it. It has some similarities to Ascension, but each character has its own starting blend of cards and a special ability. One fun feature was that sometimes you were forced to take “Dark Secret” cards. They’re worth negative points if they’re still in your deck at the end of the game, but if you draw them during the game you exchange them for the “Shocking Discovery” cards, which can make things worse for, well, everyone. I think fans of Flying Frog will easily transition to this deck-building game.

Jack Hill of Flying Frog also gave me a sneak peek at some of the artwork for their first Kickstarter project, coming in October: Shadows of Brimstone. I promised to keep my lips sealed, so all I can tell you is: Wild West meets unspeakable horrors. That, and the art looks really great. Stay tuned!

King's Armory
Round One of King’s Armory, a tower defense board game. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

I’d read about King’s Armory, a tower-defense board game on Kickstarter, shortly before Gen Con and had been in touch with designer John Wrot. He shipped his prototype out to me so I could give it a shot at Gen Con, and I sat down with Daniel Reece, one of the backers, to try it out. What really intrigued me was Wrot’s list of key features: 1 to 7 players, variable game length, and—most interesting—the ability for players to drop in and out as needed.

The board is a variable setup, and will be familiar to anyone who has played tower defense games on the computer or a smartphone: enemies pour in from one side, trying to take out your castle at the other end of the road. You build towers along the road and try to destroy enemies before they reach the castle. Unlike a traditional tower defense game, though, each player gets to control a hero that can move about the board freely. Meanwhile, you can hire soldiers and archers and such—they stay near a tower and can attack enemies as they pass, but the towers don’t automatically respawn soldiers or fire continuously at enemies.

Unfortunately, the campaign (which ended last night) did not succeed, but Wrot has plans for a reboot. That’s great news, because I think the game has a shot at being fantastic—the campaign itself just needed some tweaking. If you like tower defense games but you’d love to see one as a tabletop game, keep an eye out for the King’s Armory reboot!

Square Shooters
Square Shooters: a deck of cards on a set of dice.

I’ll admit: when I first heard of the idea of Square Shooters I didn’t think much of it. Okay, so they’re dice with card faces on them. Well, I stopped by and chatted with Tom Donelan about them, and when he showed me how they worked I was pretty impressed. Carmelyn Calvert, the inventor, had been thinking about the fact that nine six-sided dice (54 faces) could hold all 52 cards plus two jokers. But she wanted to make sure that you could actually make just about any hand of cards in a typical card game like Poker or Rummy. The cards are arranged on the dice so that you can form any straight flush for poker, plus any four-of-a-kind. Granted, there are some combinations that will be impossible because of the dice: the King of diamonds, for instance, will never be in the same hand as the two of spades. On the other hand, there’s not really any reason you would need both of those cards in a single hand in most games.

Square Shooters comes with a deck of cards for playing a poker-like game, and there’s another version, Rodeo Rummy, which comes with a spinner and rules for playing Rummy instead. But what may be most interesting to GeekDad readers is their game design contest. From October 1 to October 25, 2013, Square Shooters, partnered with Game Salute, is taking submissions for games that can be played using the dice. They’re offering a $2,000 grand prize and a Kickstarter publishing campaign, plus $250 for winners in categories like Family game, Poker/Casino game, Party game, etc. Check out thatshowirolldice.com for more.

And much, much more

Of course, this being Gen Con, there were so many things I didn’t even get to by the end of my four days there. I heard great things about AEG’s Trains, a deck-building/rail-laying game, but I knew I had a review copy waiting for me at home. I got a very brief look at Sentinels Tactics from Greater Than Games, their first foray into a tactical strategy game. Fireside Games had Dead Panic: think Castle Panic, but with zombies … and a bit more complex! Cryptozoic had a hit on their hands with Gravwell, a tricky game where you always move toward the greatest number of ships.

Dead Panic
Dead Panic: Why is the cabin so big? So the zombies can chase you around in it.

I didn’t come home with a huge pile to try out (that’ll be the plan for PAX next weekend, where I can drive and not worry about my carry-on luggage limit) but I’ve got a few games and prototypes that I’m hoping to review over the next few weeks. One thing’s certain: going to Gen Con was definitely a “win” in my book, and I’d be thrilled to attend again.

Jonathan H. Liu is a stay-at-home dad in Portland, Oregon, who loves to read, is always up for a board game, and has a bit of a Kickstarter habit.